Sitting at the bar of Destination Unknown Beer Co. in Bay Shore, you might notice something curious on tap. No, it’s not an exotic barrel-aged imperial stout or quadruple-hopped IPA. It’s the beer of neighboring breweries like Sand City in Northport, and it’s just one perk of the relatively new farm brewery license.
“You can’t really read the farm brewery mission statement and not agree with it,” says Brad Finn, who owns the pub, aka DubCo, with his partner, Chris Candiando. Though the name may imply a license exclusively for breweries on farms, that’s not the case. The license was introduced in 2012 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to grow the craft beer industry in New York State. Farm breweries currently have to obtain 20 percent of their hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients—grain, fruit, herbs, etc.—from New York; that amount increases to 90 percent by 2024.
Destination Unknown has already taken it to 100 percent for a black gose brewed with Big Alice Brewery of Queens. For New York City craft beer week, city breweries were asked to collaborate with a brewery from either upstate or Long Island. The two breweries are friends—we even ran into the guys from DubCo at the Big Alice tasting room for a previous article. “We like the idea of giving back and keeping it all in New York,” says Candiando.
As an incentive for local sourcing, farm breweries are able to open up to five satellite locations. They can also serve beer from other farm breweries as well as local wine, cider and spirits. The license is beneficial to breweries but is also aimed to develop local hop and malt agriculture to meet increasing demands.
Quality hops are vital to continuing the growth of the craft beer industry.
Justin Wesnofske grows hops on his family farm in Peconic and also handles sales for Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. We first met Wesnofske early one morning at Long Ireland Beer Co. He was bearing crates of fresh hops he spent all night picking by hand and couldn’t have been more excited about it. He is now in his sixth season of hop farming and not looking back.
It wasn’t easy the first year since hops were not a popular crop and a lot of learning had to be done on the fly. By next season Wesnofske had worked out a lot of kinks and was able to get a sizable harvest. “I was starting to prove to people that I was not crazy,” he says, “just very passionate about incorporating my farming background to produce the freshest and best quality local craft beer.” He adds: “As an employee in the craft beer industry, quality hops are vital to continuing its growth.” Along with several other East End hop farms, he hopes to continue to push the movement forward.
Condzella Hops in Wading River was able to buy an industrial hop harvester after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Many Long Islanders—including us—donated to the cause, and we were able to vote on the name for the massive machine, “Hip Hops Hooray.” Anyone who has picked hops by hand can attest it is extremely tedious, so cutting down on that labor is indeed something to celebrate. Plus, hops have a small window during which they can be harvested; if they are not picked, they go to waste. Other farms are also able use the harvester, so it really opens the potential for Long Island hops.
The annual hop harvest has become something of a tradition on Long Island with many breweries releasing fresh hop beers. Within a few hours, hops from local farms—sometimes picked by the brewers themselves—find themselves in a brew kettle. Hop taste improves as the plants mature, so look for the Long Island hops to only get better with age. A lot of the flavor is dependent on climate and soil, so you are really drinking something unique to this area.
On the contrary, malt is currently only produced upstate, but Brian Zimmerman is looking to change that. He is currently in the process of opening Long Island’s first malthouse, ZBH. He has overcome a lot of hurdles and faced some red tape, but he now has several local farms growing rye and barley that he will soon be able to malt.
Similar licensing is what helped the Long Island wine industry to become so successful. Vineyards have been able to cultivate their grape crops to give wine a real sense of place; craft breweries are hoping to follow suit.
Not only does the farm brewery license allow breweries to expand into new areas, it is also helping to cultivate the New York hop and malt industries. As they mature it is not a stretch to think that our local ingredients will one day be used nationwide. In the meantime, we are getting much closer to a 100 percent Long Island beer.